My frustrated letterpress rant!

I love letterpress. I love the way the printed materials look, both with kiss impression, and deep impression. I would still consider myself a newbie and I surely have a lot to learn, but I have learned SOME things. I know how to work my presses, and I know the basic techniques required to get the results I desire.

The problem is, it is totally a rich mans game. I am struggling to no end with my presses, trying to get prints of acceptable quality (impression, coverage, accuracy, etc.). I own a Kelsey Excelsior 5x8 Model N, and a Showcard Model B-Special. Some of you may be thinking “Oh, he’s just an amateur who doesn’t know what he’s doing”. Well when I try to execute prints on a Vandercook No. 4 they immediately come out perfect, and look just like the prints of a seasoned veteran printer, so obviously this is not just a matter of me being stupid or inexperienced.

Between my two presses and related materials, I’m in well over $1,500. Probably FAR over if I wanted to add everything up. I simply can’t afford to pay the $7,000-$10,000 for a Vandercook, as if there are even any for sale anywhere near me. Hell, I’d even like to get my hands on a nice larger C&P, but again none are ever for sale near me, and when they are it’s a rusted mess with missing parts being sold by someone who has no answers to any of the questions a buyer might have.

I would love to create a bunch of cool printed materials for sale, as well as take on jobs for clients, but without being able to promise them a high standard of quality, I’m doomed. And without making money from printing, how do I afford (or justify) the insane cost of a proper press?! Basically I’m just really annoyed because when I got into this I had hoped it was more involved than simply MONEY=QUALITY, but so far from my experience that’s exactly what it is. I’m sure there’s some goofballs out there that can make crappy looking prints on even the nicest press, but I don’t think I’m that guy.

Rant over. BLAH!

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Keep your eyes and ears open and talk to all the printers in your area. I bought my C&P 10 x 15 for $50. Cleaned literally 5lbs of oil, grime and old ink off of it,put around $1000 into supplies and rollers and used it without a problem for 7 years without any problems. You just need to look in the quiet places, not the commercial places, to find a press. I also had a large showcard press that would fit an 18 x 24 linoleum block. I knew it was going to be very loose registration but still printed 2 and 3 color on it. I just used the loose registration to my advantage in my design.

Your issues come from the limits of your presses. Table top presses, while cute, are not job presses. You need to exploit their novelty to the best of your ability if you want to use them to make money.

I finally worked out a deal with the owners of a couple of Vandercooks that I located in 2009. That is 2 years to get the presses. They were never advertised for sale but with the right offer the owner was willing to part with them. The price was more than reasonable for the pair and no where your $7000 mark. They will however need their fair share of cleanup and TLC but the wait was worth it!

You just need patience!

As for looking for presses, I know of craigslist, eBay, and briarpress. I’ve had my closest encounters with obtaining some “real” equipment from the classifieds here, but in 2 cases the sellers turned out to be complete flakes who ended up not selling at all. Again, frustrating!

Good Afternoon Mega! I feel your pain all the way down here on the Gulf Coast. Sometimes it does feel like a rich man’s game to be able to print fine-quality materials. Fortunately, it’s not. I’ve got two machines very similar to yours, and they are exquisite in their printing abilities.

Even with your Showcard and Kelsey…. which probably seem limited to you…. you can print some truly outstanding work. In fact, you should be able to print materials with those presses that are just as beautiful as would be done on a C&P or Vandercook. It’ll just be slower to produce, and may have to be smaller in size…. but as long as you work within your presses limitations you can do some amazing things.

That’s the key to it all: working within the limitations of your press in terms of printed surface area; the amount of pressure you can apply across the forme vs the hardness of the paper; the ability of your rollers to put down ink; and your own carefulness in makeready and registration. Each press is a little different, and you must learn it’s limitations OR how to work around them.

If you want some pointers on how to to achieve perfection with those two machines, e-mail me. I’ll be glad to show you. It’s not terribly difficult to do really…. but you need to get away from some of the “common wisdom” which is leading you astray.

aka Winking Cat Press

Where are you located? There are presses hiding all over the place—most of the Vandercooks have been found, but there are many floor model platens out there that are relatively cheap.


Just south of Philadelphia, PA.

I had a teacher who said that letterpress printing was all problem-solving. The more I print, the more I remember that and agree. To me, that’s the fun of it. And the agony.

But that said, you can try some other ways to scare up a press. I found a lot of great stuff a few years ago by placing a small classified ad in the little monthly newspaper that is given away in local antique stores around my area, asking if anyone had any old printing gear they wanted to get rid of. Several folks did!

What I have found with acquiring presses is patience and always keeping your eyes open. I originally wanted a No. 11 Pearl and a No 0 Poco press. It took me 3 years but I now have both and I got them for $150 ea (the Pearl I found in Philly). They’re by no means the best presses out there but they’re perfect for a small shop at home. I also recently found a Vandercook no. 4 for $1,000. So if its any consolation its very possible, just keep looking and waiting for the right price!

My wife just came home 2 weeks ago from a yard sale with a table top press she bought for $2.00. These things are out there. Dick G.

I know your frustration - I live in Florida and there is very little letterpress stuff down here mostly because we are a pretty “new” state. That being said, I am constantly hunting equipment and type and things do come up occasionally. Just be really persistent and not in a rush. I do know of a c&p 8x12 in ohio for sale and a few 10x15’s down here if you’re willing to do a road trip :)


Matt, I’ll buy your Vandercook No. 4 for $1,001. Cool?

I agree with Matt-

Patience is key. I also feel like finding the perfect press is like finding the perfect relationship. You can look forever and never find it, or you can take a breath and it might find you.

Ha! I think I might hold on to this one. I also know of a 10x15 C&P in Pittsburgh that the same guy is selling if you want a lead. I don’t know how much he wants for it but for the right price it might be worth the drive.

Yeah, if you have his email I would surely contact him.

First thing, we have Vandercooks and running paper through them and having the printing look absolutely professional is quite difficult.

Having said that, we are in Newark, Delaware. We have two Vandercooks. We rent them. A number of people come to the studio on a fairly regular basis and print on them.

You have to take our Vandercook workshop to be able to rent or be able to absolutely show you know what you are doing.

We have an SP-15 and an automatic Universal III.

Get in touch. Get some work where you can just build in an extra $25 an hour for press time and get down here and put some ink on paper.

We are a bit out of pocket for a week so it would be better for you to send us an email.

And just for you (and we’ll give you a copy if you come to the studio) the following piece we did for a talk given by Russell Maret to the American Printing History Association’s Chesapeake Chapter.

Keep an eye out for a Kickstarter project we hope to get launched today. Maybe you want to buy into a day of it.

image: rant.jpg


Put a want ad out in your area on craigslist. I just got a lead one a 10 x 15 C&P 30 minutes from me this morning. Just sitting in the back of someones offset print shop. They stopped using it years ago when they started numbering digitally.

I have had some good stuff find me though a craigslist want ad. Be clear about what you want it for and list a few different presses that you would consider. Sometimes someone will give you a good lead of a retired printer.

There are very few industries out there in which you can set a viable business up for $15,000. Letterpress is one of them.

Maybe you’re right, but I just didn’t realize I needed $15,000 as I was getting into this. Now I know.

Yeah, it can get expensive, it depends on what you want to do. It takes money to get the right stuff, but more than that, it takes patience to learn the right techniques to make it look good.
A Vandercook is a proof press good for broadsides and stuff, but I’m not sure I agree that a Kelsey with print a job as well as a Windmill.

I hate to say it, but my gripe is that the craft of printing is being watered down by designers who go out and buy a tabletop press and get upset when they can’t hit it hard enough…

That’s it for my rant….

MH -

You can do quality work on your little Kelsey and on your Showcard. It’s just easier with a 10x15 and a Model 4.

But it helps to know what your presses can do well and what sort of designs are best suited for your equipment.

Although I realize that the pleasure of design is greatest without limits - and that computer design and color ink jets just feed that tendency, some of the most beautiful phrases in the history of language were produced within the limits of making lines rhyme.

Letterpress in general has limitations; that’s why it was replaced by offset over 50 years ago. I know. I was there.

But letter presses - even small letterpresses - can do fine work - but work that is suited for letterpress.

Tune into your presses; learn what they can do best and design your work to suit their capabilities and get back to enjoying printing again.

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to make a press print beyond its limits - and it’s something we all try to do - even with a Model 4 or a 10x15 - until we’re finally old enough to know better…

Grumpy Old Al…

Could people please stop saying that one can do good work with a small Kelsey. This is just not true.

As a newbie, I agree with Megahurt that producing good/acceptable results with a Kelsey is just too difficult and disheartening.

Megahurt: if I was in your position today I would sell the small presses you have and buy a Poco press. I realize the Poco press is not a Vandercook, but it is more affordable and allows you more control over the quality of your work. If you can’t get a Poco, just go for a large C&P. (I mentioned the Poco since it is more easily movable that a large C&P).

I started my printing with two kelseys, i still have 2 kelseys, they can and will do some nice work if you take the time to learn them, all presses have limits, its a matter of finding the limits, this takes practice and experience. One of my kelseys a 5x8 has a foiling unit on it that i still use for short run foil stamping. There are many presses out there that were made for different jobs, the poco was designed to pull galley proofs of type for proof reading, lately there have been many that rig up some kind of frisket to register on a poco, i’ve seen some beautiful work done on these. You must figure out what you want to print then look for a press suited for that. A kelsey, or a poco are ok for shout runs, but will take forever on a longer run, a 10x15 c&p although heavy and harder to move will serve you best in the long run. Dick G.

In my experience it’s not the presses that are expensive but the type. All of our presses have either been free or under £100 and they are good presses. We’ve been given or bought type very cheaply, but we’ve also bought type that is now worth an absolute fortune.

The letterpress goldrush seems to continue despite the economic downturn…

…and we live in a much smaller country!

I don’t get why Adana’s or Kelseys command such a great price, but then again I do… less opportunity to lose some fingers or a foot maybe? Use it on the dining room table maybe? Is it those types of printers that drive the prices up for everyone else?

I had a spat with a seller on ebay recently - who was selling three type cases for £90 (£90???!). Their ‘customers’ would apparently pay this (and more) and were happy to do so and anyway “what business of it was mine?”…My point was that this person was pricing potential printers out of the market, and as I am a printer it was my business! Of course I knew who these cases were aimed at - those ‘nick nack people’, and not us.

What happens when the goldrush ends? Will stuff end up getting chucked away again like it did before?

Mr Newbee…. while it may be true that you have difficulty producing high quality work on your Kelsey, the fault does not lie in the press. I’ve got a number of presses ranging from 3x5 Kelseys up to an 18x24 cylinder machine…. and have been using them all successfully for four decades now. When used within it’s limits, a Kesley can do fine work. Just because you can’t do it is no reason to criticize the machine.

if you’re up for a little bit of a drive, this would be a fantastic purchase!

I 100% agree with winkingcat and dickg on your comment. I have a kelsey 3x5 and a 5x8 along with my C&P 10x15 and 12x18. I use all of them on a regular basis and within their limitations. Of course I can’t use the 3x5 to print heavily covered business cards and expect a great result, nor can I print a full 5x7 invitation on the 5x8. That said, there are things that I can’t print well enough on the 10x15, so I go up to the 12x18 for that job. I can however score, emboss and print beautiful products on each of the 4 presses. Learn and appreciate each press for what it can do with an accomplished pressman behind it. They are capable of much more than you are giving them credit for.

Jamie, is that your press for sale?

Some of the best letterpress printers I know use small Kelseys, Adanas or galley presses. The most important thing making fine printing isn’t the press, but the skills of the printer.

Yes, letterpress printing is expensive - in time! You need to invest a lot of time in training and searching for the right equipment. Remember that in the good old days it took several years of training to become educated printer or compositor! Letterpress printing can also be very expensive in money if you collect and want to buy presses and rare metal and wood types on eBay (letterpress printing is like drugs - more wants more). But making fine prints doesn’t require a lot of money itself - a simple press, some small amounts of types, some skills and a lot experience and time can do it!

@ Megahurt - regarding another topic. Hand inking isn’t a bummer - but the direct way to good craftsmanship and fine art work. All the most beloved iron hand presses are hand inked and all the most beloved hand press printers are hand inking their forms!
It’s also possible without any problems to make prober registration and make ready on a galley press - it’s just a question of experience.

@ all newbies. Do yourself a favor and save your frustrations for the global warming and the financial crises and look at the possibilities instead of the limits in the equipment you have.

So back to your presses, print, get yourself some experience and make some fine prints :-)

Gott grüß die Kunst

nope, not mine. Although it might have been mine if it weren’t such a long drive! I just saw it when I was surfing for new ‘toys’ and thought of your thread.

Well said Jens! You expressed the very ideas that I have been working with for many, many years.

I started my own printing / printmaking carreer in a very humble way, working with home-made equipment in an unair-conditioned Digger warehouse in San Fran…. making posters and leaflets for the movement. (If you don’t know who the Diggers were, you can Google them.)

Back then, I’d have given everything I owned for a C&P Pilot, and a platemaker…. or even real metal type! Actually, that wouldn’t have been much, since all I had was a backpack, a change of cothes, and a set of woodcarving chisels. We hand-cut most of our own blocks and stencils…… and produced some of the most fantastic work the world had ever seen. I had to laugh not too long ago when a poster I did back then showed up on e-bay as a “object d’art” and fetched over a thousand dollars!

My point is this: if you are motivated, and are willing to think about what you CAN do, not about what you can’t do, then you can accomplish some pretty amazing stuff.

Your quote: “The most important thing making fine printing isn’t the press, but the skills of the printer” is right on the money.

First of all, I totally appreciate the help that Dave and others are offering here. It’s awesome.

I feel like the perfect truth lies somewhere in the middle. I absolutely agree that it takes practice and skill to be great. On that scale, I am still at the beginning.

Having said that, I’ve literally taken a form locked in a chase out of one little press where I wasn’t getting good results, laid it down on the bed of a Vandercook, and immediately rolled it over to find a perfectly even, clear impression just as I desired. I certainly didn’t gain any experience or skill as I walked across that room from press to press, yet when I arrived on the much nicer press, my result was instantly better. Go figure.

I don’t think that has much to do with press quality, but what the press can and cannot do, as the folks here are stressing.

Yes, that does make sense. And i think the bigger/better presses can just do the good work with much greater ease.

That’s actually a great example of what we are talking about. The smaller press most likely would have given you just as great a result if it had been adjusted properly. Even with a perfectly level forme, the packing, the platen adjustments, and the rollers (both the riding height of each roller and the level riding height rail-to-rail) needs to be perfectly dialed in to get the results you want. A larger press will more easily disguise improper make-ready when printing with a deep impression. This in no way means the press is better, it’s all about how well you can operate them and your experience/skill in knowing what to do to get those same results (or better) on a small press.

Please don’t take this as demeaning or trying to say you’re bad at what you do. That’s not the intent at all and since tone does not come across well in the writing, I want to be clear that any criticism and/or disagreeing with you is only meant to help.

I would like to go back to what Jens said. Practice and experience weigh heavily in producing good printing, on any press. Sure it is easy to get a good impression on a Vandercook that is set up properly but the same can be done on a properly set up Kelsey if the impression isn’t exceeding the size of the press. I see so many questions on this forum and others about how to or what if. Just go ahead and try it and see what the results will be. That is how you learn. Over time you will decide what kind of press you want and work toward that goal. It all goes back to time invested, right Jens?

Mega…. I don’t doubt that you took a chase that wouldn’t print on your Kelsey and it printed beautifully on a Vandercook. They are truly wonderful machines.

But please consider this: the Vandy was one that was currently in use, and had all of the adjustments already made for type high work, didn’t it? Of course it did, or it would not have printed well, either. It printed well because it was already set up and all you had to do is operate it.

Did you set the rollers on the Vandy? Or adjust the packing? or adjust the rails to type high? No…. somebody had already done that for you. You could come to my shop, put your Kelsey chase right into my press and if it is truly type-high, it would print well there, too….. or on my proof press. That’s because they are all set-up correctly…. which is the key to everything no matter what press you are using.

Sometimes bigger presses can indeed be easier to print with, sometimes they are not. My cylinder press is a first-class pain in backside sometimes…. That’s not the point here. The point is that no matter what kind of press you have, you can learn to print beautiful work with it if you are willing to spend the time to learn it correctly.

By the way…. please don’t take any of these comments as criticism of your abilities. They are not. In fact, this entire thread indicates that you take your finished work very seriously, and want to progress…… which is noteworthy.

Many people reach the juncture you are at right now, and give up. Stick with it, and learn your press….. then when you get it all dailed in right, you’ll be a lot happier. Keep up the good work.

No offense taken. I claim myself to be a newb, and I’ll still claim to be a newb after I’m not one, so I can exceed expectations. =P

I am eager to learn because I truly admire the craft and find value in both the new and old schools.

Interesting thread. Seems as if you struck a chord with folks. I have a slightly different opinion and do blame some of your frustrations on the equipment. While I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to printing, I will take more credit for knowing the difference between high and low quality machines no matter what their function. It is quite evident to me, that Kelsey presses are not the same quality as some tabletops such as a Golding Official or Sigwalt and as a result have more severe limitations and are more difficult to work with. If you are new and learning the craft, it makes no sense to me to use inferior equipment given the choice. It is like trying to use any tool that is cheaply built and poorly designed compared to a better designed version. You will have a tougher time of it if you are using inferior equipment whether you are a carpenter, electrician or a printer. Kelsey is an inferior piece of equipment as compared to the two other brands. It is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of engineering, thicknesses of parts, smoothness of design, ease of adjustment, etc. Kelsey originally sold for much less than a Golding or Sigwalt. There is a reason for this. Kelsey was marketed to boys, while Golding marketed to printers. Why would one want to make it more difficult on themselves knowingly? Working within the limitations of a press such as this is fine if you have a collection of presses that include better ones and you are an experienced printer and have a fondness for your old Kelsey. I for one have no such fondness and feel the Kelseys limitations are too much to want to deal with, and I am more than capable of adjusting them. I just don’t want to after using something much nicer and easier to work with. A quality tool of any kind can make the learning curve of the endeavor a lot less frustrating and allow the user to produce better work earlier in the process. Let the responses begin!

John, I totally agree. I got lucky with my first table-top Kelsey and was able to do some OK work on it but when I acquired my 6x9 Sigwalt Nonpareil — what a vast difference in capacity for quality and ease of use. I suspect I’m well over 100,000 impressions and 4 or 5 books on it and it still feels solid and capable. If I had to settle for just one press that would be it. Or a Golding Official of the same size.


John, you move to Kelsey’s state then bad mouth them, they might run you out of there. For someone who never used an ink knife, or got any ink on their presses you seem to know a lot about printing. You are right, the kelseys are made different from the pilots and goldings, you can do fine work on kelseys but they were not made for the heavy impression everyone wants today. You can get more impressional strength from the goldings and pilots. I still have and love my kelsey, it was sold to a boy, and your golding was sold to an older man. Dick G.


The 6x9 Sigwalt and Golding(I have) are the best of the bunch. Wonderful size press. I have restored and used smaller, and larger. This is the “sweet spot” for both companies.


What took you so long…. almost an hour to respond! I thought it would be less than a minute. And you my friend, are who I was talking about that should own one or more as you do. But, then again, you are the McGyver of all the printing world and only need a bit of string, a paper clip, and some lip balm to produce fine printing. For the rest of us it really helps to have the best piece of equipment we can get our hands on. Having used all three I am comparing(with ink I might add), and being an old machinery guy, it’s an easy call. Kelsey, was a marketing genius. Golding was an engineering genius. Don’t feel bad. I don’t think much of a Pilot either. Somehow they have gotten to be the most expensive tabletop you can buy. Problem is again, that they also use an inferior design. They are rugged enough, but, the engineering/design is nothing special as compared to the ingenious toggle design employed in the aforementioned presses. (New can of worms now opened for comment)

John, having never used or seen a golding or sigwalt table top press i’ll have to take your word on it, i was always taught to respect my elders and i do respect and agree with your comments. Now i guess i’ll have to try a golding or sigwalt or both so i’ll know for sure what you mean, Dick G.

[Wow, this is a long thread]

Megahurt, I have only a short experience using a Kelsey and a Pilot. To me the Pilot was a better press than the Kelsey (no offense to Kelsey owners). As John Falstrom says, the Pilot was better engineered.

If you are unable to get a Pilot, perhaps you should consider a Golding.

Yes of course a press made for professional use is stronger and often easier to use than presses like Adanas or Kelseys – no doubt about that. And yes a Vandercook is more expensive than a simple galley press etc – no doubt about that either.
But as I’m trying to say: The real investment and the most important issue you shall expect to focus on starting up printing is the investment in time learning the trade. Don’t expect to know everything after a few hours printing. Letterpress printing is a trade and not just a hobby and all who are working with a trade needs education and experience.
Not all can pay USD 10,000 for a press, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t make great prints with a less more fancy press.

The easy way goes through the huge financial investments in equipment – but the best way to the heart of the trade goes through the huge investment in time and patience.

Gott grüß die Kunst
Jens (twenty years in letterpress printing and still a newbie)

Well said Jens!

Hi Jens,

I can be a little strong when I talk or write about a subject I believe in. I didn’t mean to suggest your points were not valid, they truly are-as are others that promote the value of working out the issues. There is no substitute for that way of learning and I am from that school. I self taught myself most things I know. The irony of my perspective is that some of the lesser quality presses are selling for as much or more than better quality ones so you are often not required to pay more for a press that may be easier to learn on. I do believe in getting the best quality equipment I can afford even if it costs a little more. If it doesn’t cost more to do so, that makes the decision easy. Then, using the better equipment, invest in time and patience as you suggest. I personally believe in this case, that there is unnecessary frustration caused by lesser quality equipment that can make the difference between success and failure. I don’t know about you, but with the knowledge I have about the differences in presses, I would never want to just own one of those brands. It would give me no pleasure whatsoever. I currently own 6 Goldings with the following costs: an Official No. 4 (6 x 9) tabletop $500, an Official No. 9 Map press (6 x 9) tabletop $200, a Pearl Old Style No. 3 (7 x 11) $1000, a Improved Pearl No. 11 (7 x 11)$250, a Jobber No. 6 (8 x 12) $400, and the Art Series Jobber No. 18 (12 x 18) $100. They all are an absolute joy and pleasure to use and don’t add up to the cost of the asking price of one Pilot or two Kelseys for some of the prices I see on Ebay or this site. I am suggesting to make a smart purchase of a quality press and then learn by doing as you have described. I hope this better describes my point of view.

John, what you are saying makes total sense and is completely valid. The discussion about skill being more important than the press came about because the original poster was saying that he couldn’t afford to make quality prints because he couldn’t afford the high cost presses.
Though I love mine, I too have always wondered why the tabletops went for more than the significantly larger floor models. I believe it’s due to the demand for smaller, compact presses hobbyist printers who may not have the room for larger presses.

I got my Kelsey 5x8 for $106.20 on eBay a year ago.

You did well! When I first inherited mine, I was looking to see what they were worth and couldn’t find one for less than $300. I now have a C&P 10x15 and 12x18, neither of which I paid that much for (mostly because the previous owners had no idea what they were or how to go about moving them).

I’m looking all over for a 10x15 (haven’t seen any 12x18) that is in decent shape and not too expensive. We’ll see.


I think you are right and I do realize we are talking about learning a difficult skill. I fear that the extra problems that can come along with tabletops of different quality can frustrate even a diligent learner who is focused on learning the printing skills but is having to deal with press issues that can be considered unrelated to the printing skills. As an example some simple impression adjustments on a Golding can be a lengthy frustrating issue with other press designs. Adjusting four coarsely threaded impression screws compared to putting in or taking out a single shim or turning one screw that brings in the whole top or bottom of the platen perfectly parallel to the bed.


You did well. Take solice in the fact if you decide to upgrade you will make money.

megahurt - I got my 6x9 Sigwalt in exchange for spending a day to help a landlord clean out the filthiest rental house I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, the press wasn’t in the house! But in retrospect, I would have preferred to be in your shoes. :)

“You are the McGyver of all the printing world and only need a bit of string, a paper clip, and some lip balm to produce fine printing.” -John Falstromon on DickG.

Here! Here! :-)

Let’s settle this question. Once and for all.

Yes. You can do good work on a 5x8 Kelsey - IF it’s properly set up and has good rollers. Sure, it’s not a Vandercook, but that’s a cylinder press. The Kelsey is a platen press. The 5x8 is a very small platen press. Therein lies a major - but not insurmountable difference.

Take a look at the Sunday, August 29, 2010 post from

And, if you’re really, really lucky, and develop a good relationship with some one who’s willing to work with you and sell you a nice 10x15 on reasonable terms, you can indeed get a better press without being rich….

… didn’t you? ;)

- Alan

I concur with Alan, for what it’s worth. We did this with a Kelsey 5x8—properly set up, and with good rollers—with a 120-year-old lead cut:

Elsewhere on the site ( we have more evidence. We do mostly small, fiddly stuff, so haven’t done much in the way of large-area solids yet. But the time will come…and it will be on the Kelsey.


PS I’m posting this late, using my ipad, so can’t just attach the image. I’ll try editing it tomorrow to add it in.

PPS Done! Original size is 1” tall.

image: IMG_8009.JPG


I found that Kelsey presses are super easy to over ink, and tiresome for the arms, but I think everyone has some valid points here.

If you want to start a business (not just a hobby) and especially if you are an ‘artist’ (craftsperson, printer, maker take a pick) you need to be buying the best materials you can afford. I can tell you, a crappy watercolor brush is fine, but it is not as nice/easy to work with as a sable one. I own both. Each brush has it’s place. It’s not different with paint, substrates, or printing machines.

Can a master painter make a masterpiece with a crappy watercolor brush? You bet. I’ve seen it done. Can a master printer make beautiful work on a Kelsey - absolutely.

I don’t think that this is a rich mans game. It is a patient man’s game. If you don’t have the money, you work with what you have and you learn. Then when you do have the money you take that experience and graduate to a better machine. Suddenly, everything is easier, faster, and better.

I spent that much on all my start up equipment, but I expected to spend twice as much or triple and saved up for that. If this is a craft you love take your time and wait for the right machine. If this is a business that you want to start - you should be doing way more research and really looking at the cost and effect of this.

I know commercial printers, fine press printers, hobby printers, and print instructors. Printing is all about planning ahead. It’s about order in many ways - step by step. Businesses are the same way. I am not an expert at anything, but there is a lot of wisdom here on Briar press. Enjoy the presses you have. I have seen some gallery quality four color prints made on a Showcard. It takes 5x the time, and plenty of workaround. Patience.

Oooh, didn’t realize how old this thread was. I stand by what I said though. Well I suppose we’ll see how it turned out. Tell us, Megahurt…Did you find your machine? Did you work with what you had and find a work around? Did you give up and sell it all at a gain? I hope it’s going well with you.

Oh wow, I had no idea this old thing was brought back to the top.

Yes, things have changed quite a bit. And wouldn’t you know it, a better machine makes for better results! I got a very cool 10x15 New Series over a year ago, and I’ll be doing the National Stationery Show in NYC this May.

Thanks Alan!

Hey Megahurt I love your work and good luck at the NSS. I started a company and I’m still really new at this. I don’t like my website but I have a Facebook page.

Anyway back to the rant. I understand how you feel. I started a company and I wanted to change the face of stationery by doing screen printing and letterpress. I live in Cincinnati and there is no one doing anything like that here. You can find screen printers and letterpress printers but I been a graphic designer for 12 years and to make invtations and stationery with these two art in Cincinnati is not found.

I bought a hedliburg windmill 10x15 about 3 months ago. And at first it is a money pit. I was lucky enough to find one for sale right down the street lol. Crazy. So I bought it for 2,200 and it works great, no major problems. But I had to get a chase, boxcar, bearing, rollers, plates, quoins, and a bunch of little things and it almost killed my income. I’m not rich at all and work a retail job. If it wasn’t for the support of my parents I could not have gotten the little things. But if you really want the do letterpress for real, the best thing I think is just take out a loan. It sucks and its scary but you either wait until something is on sale and cheap enough for you to buy which could take months and months or you can just buy everything now and get started and make things to pay back the loan. I could have gotten a smaller press, but I’m not thinking about now but 3 years from now when the company is really up and running and I don’t have time to sit a print things. I still have no regrets buying my windmill because I think it’s top of the line. Maybe it is a rich man game at first, but the people with passion for this art can also win. I think, take out a loan ( all you need is like 5,000 for a good start) and get your stuff, and make your great things you know you should be making and move on from the pain you feel now.

I took out 10,000 because I bought a Screen printer also.

Thanks for auto spelling my press name wrong iPad.

FWIW, I didn’t see that anyone mentioned using damp paper—I find that makes a quantum leap in quality of results when your press isn’t perfect. I take binders board (thin kind) and wet it and make a stack interleaved with the paper and then weight the stack for maybe 10-15 minutes. This results in just slightly damp paper.

On this website and on ebay I see 8x12 press everyday listed. I have a 8x12 press on order and hope to get it some.

There are many small presses out there.

I think there is three listed on this website.

so sorry. I’m dumb.


this thread was posted three years ago. Megahurt has not posted in 9 months. He never seemed to be a big fan of these forums or the Briarpress community.

I checked out his website, he seems to be doing well. Definitely got himself a larger press, maybe a few years of doing actual work and practicing the craft allowed him to upgrade?

Wow, this is kinda funny.

Well, to update my story, I did exactly what I was saying I needed to do (get a bigger/better press), and guess what? Shockingly, the quality was suddenly WAY better, despite me not having much more experience at the time.

It’s been a few years now, and I’m doing fine. I sold the Showcard, use the Kelsey for scoring, and print on a 10x15 NS.

Well, I don’t think anyone was saying that you wouldn’t get better results with a larger press.

But you’ve also been at it for four years or so, and there is no need to discredit the effort you’ve put in, or the experience you’ve gained.